Thursday, August 24, 2017

Review: THE BLINDS by Adam Sternbergh

I reviewed The Blinds: A Novel (Ecco Books) by Adam Sternbergh for Lone Star Literary Life. This novel is an original fusion of mystery, comedy, procedural, suspense, and western, seasoned with a bit of science fiction — The Sopranos meets The Andy Griffith Show meets The Twilight Zone. Seriously.

WESTERN SUSPENSE
Adam Sternbergh
The Blinds: A Novel
Ecco
Hardcover, 978-0-0626-6134-0, (also available as an e-book, an audio book, and on audio CD), 400 pgs., $26.99
August 1, 2017

1. NO VISITORS
2. NO CONTACT
3. NO RETURN

Those are the rules in Caesura (rhymes with “Tempura”), Texas (aka The Blinds), population forty-eight, located somewhere outside Amarillo, enclosed by a fourteen-foot fence. A twist on the United States Federal Witness Protection Program (WITSEC), the population of Caesura are criminals (some are a “coiled trap,” others are “more like a malfunctioning valve, a faulty weld, a crack in a storage tank leaking toxins”). But they don’t know that. A shadowy organization called the Fell Institute has perfected a method to wipe our memories, and made a deal with the U.S. Marshals to conduct a cruel neurological and psychological experiment. All has been peaceful in Caesura for eight years, but now there are two bodies, both shot to death.

The Blinds: A Novel is the latest from Edgar-nominated author Adam Sternbergh. This novel is an original fusion of mystery, comedy, procedural, suspense, and western, seasoned with a bit of science fiction — The Sopranos meets The Andy Griffith Show meets The Twilight Zone.

Sternbergh has a lot of fun naming his characters: Each new citizen of Caesura is required to choose a new name using two lists; one list is the names of movie stars, the other is names of United States vice presidents. The result is characters named Spiro Mitchum and Doris Agnew, which had me giggling regularly.

These characters are numerous and diverse, but because of the lack of backstories due to the memory wipes, they can’t be complex, making identifying with them and caring about them challenging. There are a few exceptions. Sheriff Calvin Cooper, our anti-hero who’s never had to load his sidearm until now, is given to rambling interior monologues. Sidney Dawes is Cooper’s new deputy. She’s officious, ambitious, and insubordinate. Fran Adams, former love interest of Cooper, is the only resident with a child, eight-year-old Isaac, born in Caesura. Fran’s only memento of her previous life, other than Isaac, is a tattoo of a series of numbers encircling her wrist.

The Blinds takes place over five days, but Sternbergh takes too long building to the action, and when the action begins the unrelenting violence becomes tedious. But the plot is intricate and creative, the foreshadowing is hair-raising, the twists whiplash-inducing. And you have to appreciate a plot that employs Susan Sontag essays as a major clue.

Sternbergh can turn a phrase. During a town meeting, the “crowd pulsates in the heat, murmuring, fluid and combustible.” In the bar, “a defeated ceiling fan begins its exhausted rotation.” When the climactic action begins, “The silences after the shots are the worst part. Then more shots, sharp reports, getting closer,” a resident thinks, “Like the knock of a census-taker, stopping at every door on the block, approaching yours.” Channeling Davy Crockett, Cooper says, “Let me stress that, despite the perimeter fence and the various rules, your residency here is not a punishment. You are not in jail. You are not in hell. You are in Texas.”

The Blinds is about community, retribution (“a distant relative of justice”), the possibility of redemption, and the role memory plays in identity. There’s more than meets the eye to The Blinds.

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.

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